One of the most important things you can do to enrich the lives and relationships of those you leave behind is to make sure all of your estate affairs are in order - and I'm not even talking about your estate legal documents. Sure, having all your estate legal documents in order is an important component to leaving a legacy (and not a headache) to your family, but here are five OTHER MATTERS that our best clients do for their loved ones to ensure a peaceful, stress-free, harmonious estate settlement:
1. Funeral and Burial Instructions. If you've had your estate planning legal affairs documented by our law firm in the last 25 years, you received an Estate Planning Portfolio containing numerous sections. One of those sections includes your customized Burial and Funeral Instructions. Countless people have revealed their heart-felt wishes regarding their burials to me, but it really doesn't do much good to tell ME what you want, because I'm not likely to be the one handling your funeral arrangements. Document your detailed wishes in the appropriate section of your Estate Planning Portfolio. Your family will thank you for it and they'll brag about you to others.
2. List Your Closest Family Members and Friends. There's a section in your Estate Planning Portfolio that we assemble for our clients where you can list the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of your closest family members and friends. Don't leave your family with the job of having to track down the contact information for those dozens of people who need notification. Do this work ahead of time and keep it up to date.
3. Instructions to Your Executor / Successor Trustee. If you've worked with us and you have your Estate Planning Portfolio, there's a section in your Portfolio which has detailed instructions for the person that you designated to handle your legal, tax, and financial affairs when you are gone. You simply need to let that person know of the existence and location of your customized Estate Planning Portfolio, and they'll be able to flip through to the section that contains their instructions on what to do to get the job done.
4. Organized Asset Information. You can have the most superior set of estate legal documents customized for your family, but if your surviving wife or other surviving family members do not have detailed records of what you own and what you owe, you will leave them with a frustrating, never-ending headache. This will delay your estate settlement because no one will ever know if there is another account or asset that will be uncovered at a later date that will cause all of your heirs to drudge through more settlement paperwork. In a Rabalais Estate Planning Portfolio there is a section that includes the assets you own which will take the "guesswork" out of your estate settlement.
5. Your Estate Planning Letter to Your Heirs. Included in a Rabalais Estate Planning Portfolio, you can communicate your wishes to your family regarding your desired distribution of personal effects, such as guns, jewelry, furniture, and other personal non-titled items. For some, making sure the personal effects wind up in the right hands is more important than the division of funds. Plus, it's easy to divide $1,000,000 among four children, but many families have been torn apart because of a fight over personal effects which had far less fair market value than other estate assets, but FAR MORE SENTIMENTAL VALUE than a bank account or investment portfolio. So take a few moments to describe your wishes and your feelings to your surviving wife, husband, children, or other loved ones. It will be your final message to them.
If you left your lawyer's office with your estate legal documents folded up in an envelope - without an organized set of supporting documents, you've missed the boat. Sure - having a superior, customized set of estate planning legal documents is critical to easing the process of settling your legal affairs, but having all of the above supporting letters, records, and instructions for those you leave behind can be the key to leaving a legacy.